Saturday, July 31, 2010

Talking about Mexico

Starting at around the 9:00 mark here, I talk with Silvio Canto about Mexico.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Kingpin Strategy

Apropos of Nacho Coronel's death, one of the suggestions of the recent Foreign Affairs article on Colombian lessons for Mexico was to adopt a so-called kingpin strategy. The complete article isn't online and I don't have it in front of me, but the gist was that Mexico needs to focus more on the kingpins and less on their networks, because running a multi-national smuggling organization isn't so easy, and once the boss goes down, he's not so easy to replace.

I thought this was the most mistaken portion of an otherwise pretty sharp article (although I still think there are significant problems with using Colombia as a model for Mexico). In Mexico, at least, the death or arrest of kingpins has typically been accompanied by a quick surge of killings and the relatively quick resurrection of the party's normal operations. Such was the case with the death of Amado Carrillo, the arrest of Juan García, and many other examples. When organizations have faded (the Valencias in Michoacán, the Arellano Félix brothers in Tijuana), it's not been because of one single arrest, but sustained pressure (and not just from the government, but from competitors, too). Mexico most certainly needs to have a far greater capacity to track down the most notorious capos, but that also has to be coupled with a broader strategy to attack the organizations' lower levels of operation.

Honest Agustín

Banxico chief (since December) Agustín Carstens says that there is a good chance Mexico will suffer from a double-dip recession, which is significantly more pessimism (and, presumably, realism) than we heard from him when he was Calderón's finance secretary. It's also the first time I remember someone from the government voicing concern about another recession.

The Left's Pact: Back On, So They Say

AMLO and Ebrard shared a meal on Tuesday and each came out of it reaffirming his commitment to cede the terrain to the candidate best positioned in 2012. Two reactions: first, it occurs to me that I don't know whether "best positioned" refers to the PRD primaries or the general election. Whenever I've read about the pact, I've always assumed that it was the latter, but I could be wrong. This is an important distinction, because Ebrard is going to likely remain the general-election favorite, and AMLO the better liked candidate within the ranks of the leftist parties.

Second, regardless of what was said after the meal, I remain convinced that the only way there will be a single leftist candidate is if Ebrard steps aside and it is AMLO. I just don't see the Tabascan sitting this one out, but maybe he'll surprise us. And with either a divided left or a unified left behind AMLO, the Left is in trouble in 2012.

Also, anyone interested in the Mexican left should check out the new blog Aguachile.

The Worst Possible Candidate for Medium Security

That would be Osiel Cárdenas, who nonetheless is housed at a medium-security prison in Atlanta. It's a shame that his file is sealed, because it'd be really interesting to see what kind of info he gave the US in order to earn such a sweet deal (beyond the security level, he also has the chance to get out of prison at some point).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Coronel Killed

Nacho Coronel, probably the fourth biggest of the Sinaloa traffickers in Mexico, was killed in a shootout with the army in Jalisco today. This comes just a couple of weeks after a cover story in Proceso. His death certainly goes a long, long way toward addressing the concern that Calderón and the army specifically were protecting Chapo's men.

PAN Mayors, More Executions?

Via Noel Maurer, who's had a great many posts on Mexican insecurity in recent days, a grad student at MIT has a study that demonstrates that the election of a PAN mayor to a municipality where the party hadn't governed leads to a 15 percent spike in executions. I've not read the report, but Noel's explanation of the methodology makes it come across as thorough and sound. Assuming the analysis is correct, that makes me think of a couple of different possible explanations:
1) PAN candidates crack down more on the actual smuggling of drugs, which forces gangs into more violent ways of earning a living (i.e. kidnapping, bank robbery, et cetera).

2) PAN candidates invite new gangs into their entities, which sparks fights with the incumbent criminal groups. (A version of this is the common though not necessarily correct explanation for the spike in violence in Torreón.)
What else could there be? The extent to which independent factors were controlled for would seem to be a big remaining question. Nothing against the student, but so much of what determines the meanders of Mexican security are shadowy variables that are very difficult if not impossible to accurately account for, which makes you hesitate to trust the veracity of any broad conclusion (see previous post). Nonetheless, very, very interesting.

The Hazards of Thinking about the Drug Trade

I can certainly relate to this thought from Malcolm Beith:
I've just written a book about the drug war, and I confess that I am just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of insight. I know what I know but I know very little. But what worries me is that everyone else seems to be in the same place.

I recently had a conversation with a DEA agent in Mexico who ended said conversation by saying: "Eh, what do I know?"

I had another conversation with a foreign correspondent in which he said the same thing. "Eh, what do I know?"

We all know that little is known for sure in Mexico, but it's hardly reassuring when a former anti-organized crime prosecutor tells you that if three people tell you the rumour, you can assume it to be true and investigate. "But, eh, what do I know?" he added.

I was also told by a reporter acquaintance that an FBI source of his had tried to pass off a Rio Doce article as "intel," prompting me to think the FBI guy goes home every night and tells his wife: "Eh, what do I know?"

Here's what we know for sure: nobody seems to know anything.

And I wish I knew more.
At least, everything but the book part.

More Bad News from Torreón

Four journalists --two print reporters and two TV cameramen-- are reported to have been kidnapped in La Laguna earlier this week.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Explanations for Torreón

Mexican authorities have declared that those responsible for the attacks in Torreón over the past several months are none other than a group of inmates housed in the Gómez Palacio prison who were given passes to leave each night and exact vengeance on their enemies, at which point they would return to the prison and pretend as though their life was that of an average convict.

My initial reaction to this is that while elements of it may be true, it cannot be the entire story. I'm not sure exactly in what order the news the trickled out, but I first heard about it as just evidence that the Gómez prisoners were sneaking out at night, and then it morphed into the story they were sneaking out to perpetrate the most brutal crimes in the Laguna since Pancho Villa executed a whole bunch of Chinese during the Mexican Revolution. If the sequence in which I heard about reflects how the news story developed, it just seems too neat by half. Even if the story broke all at once and I just heard about it parts, it just seems implausible that people would repeatedly massacre innocents and then go hide from the authorities in jail. That seems much closer to a Robert Rodriguez version of Mexico than something that would happen real life. And what is the advantage for the gangs' ultimate bosses, who are presumably not in prison, in using inmates for killers? Are there not gang-members on the outside who are available for this sort of thing? Wouldn't using the prisoners just increase the chance that this turns into a major story and as such a priority for the federal government, which spells bad news for the gangs?

Furthermore, there were reports after the second of the three main massacres in Torreón this year, in May at a bar called Las Juanas, that four of the killers were apprehended and beheaded by people associated with the bar. If those reports are true (and they may not be, but they were quite common after the shootings, some of which included photos of the heads), wouldn't we have already have had reports of four supposed prisoners killed on the streets of Gómez Palacio after having participated in a mass killing?

Chicharito's Goal



Not a bad debut for Chicharito with Man U: after a 62nd-minute entrance, he found the net with a nice lob in the 83rd.

Again, Tragically

Another nephew of incoming Chihuahua Governor César Duarte has been killed. That makes two in a little more than two weeks.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Change of Scenery

After five years in Mexico, I'm relocating to the United States next week, which means that Gancho is going offline for a while. When I get settled, I'll continue to post on Mexico, though perhaps with less frequency and perhaps with a slightly more remote point of view, and almost certainly with fewer pictures of random stuff in Torreón. In any event, I extend a sincere thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read, nod in agreement, comment, disagree vehemently, or perform any like activity over the past two years. It's been a pleasure, and I hope you'll keep reading when I am operating once more in a week or so.

Terrorism in Mexico?

In recent days, there have been a couple of columns, representative of a broader emerging national narrative, that the last couple of weeks have marked a turn toward narco-terrorism in Mexico. The biggest reason is the car-bombs in Juárez, which is the subject of articles by Jorge Luis Sierra and PAN Deputy Javier Corral. This growing belief was enough to spark a denial from Arturo Sarukhán and Carlos Pascual, which entirely on Juárez with the argument that no civilians were targeted, and that the cops were killed as enemies of the traffickers, comparable to one army's attacks on an another.

In terms of Juárez, I think Sarukhán's point is valid, but targeting police officers who are the criminals' enemies doesn't itself eliminate the message to the public, which is to be afraid. It's hard to know for sure, but the selection of car bombs instead of AKs as the weapon for the attack would seem to be a conscious decision to sow terror among the population. But the clearer example is in Torreón, which was discussed in a typically bombastic column on from Martín Moreno. Partly because it's a lower profile town than Juárez, and partly because bombs are scarier than bullets, the mass killings in Torreón have gone largely unnoticed, but 40 innocents have been killed this year not because of any gang affiliation, but because they chose to have a drink in a certain venue. The targets were the civilians. The goal of the attacks was to kill them by the bunch, and to scare the rest of us away from certain bars. And it's worked; there are basically no nightclubs open in the town.

For reference, here's a definition from the UN regarding terrorism:
Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.
There's also a US definition that focuses more on political motivations. You could make an argument that the drug dealers don't qualify because their killings aren't political, but such a semantic argument just confuses the issue. The goals of the Torreón killers were to kill noncombatants and provoke fear.

The tactic of targeting civilians in Torreón doesn't seem to be spreading nationally, and Mexico isn't turning into Colombia. However, we need to call a spade a spade, and react accordingly. Until this week, Torreón hadn't had a federal security presence since last year, despite terrorist tactics being employed on various occasions going back to January. If Mexico's worried about the Colombianization of its security situation, pacifying Torreón and punishing the gang behind these killings should have been one of the government's highest priorities. Instead, it sent the message that you can intentionally kill civilians by the dozen, and as long as you don't score big-time media attention, you don't have to worry about the Mexican government.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The GAO on Mérida

Via Burro Hall, a new GAO report is pretty scathing in terms of what the Mérida Initiative has accomplished. Here's the conclusions section of the report:
The United States has made some progress delivering equipment and training to Mexico and Central America under the Mérida Initiative and supported efforts to combat crime and narcotics trafficking. Nevertheless, violence continues to grow and needs are changing across the region as criminals adjust their activities in reaction to increased law enforcement efforts. This year, State revised its strategy and defined new goals, but left out key elements that would facilitate management and accountability. State generally lacks outcome-based measures that define success in the short term and the long term, making it difficult to determine effectiveness and leaving unclear when the Initiative’s goals will be met. Establishing better performance measures could provide Congress and other stakeholders with valuable information on outcomes, enabling them to make more informed decisions on whether or not policies and approaches might need to be revised and in what ways. Regarding program implementation, there are no timelines for future deliveries of some equipment and training, particularly for a range of capacity building programs that will take on a large role going forward. Provision of time frames for the commencement and completion of programs would set expectations for stakeholders, including the Mexican government, which has expressed concerns about the pace of delivery. It would also facilitate coordination and planning for all organizations involved in implementation.
The report also says that just 9 percent of the money has been spent, with less than half having been allocated. All this squares with what we've seen up to this point from the initiative. The plan was justified at the time of its passage by the likelihood that it would foster cooperation between the two governments, but that in and of itself is a pretty weak goal, aside from being impossible to truly measure. Not surprisingly given the absence of analytical rigor that went into planning and passing the package, much of what has followed has been hampered by the lack of a clear understanding or even the consideration of what Mexico actually needs to improve its security agencies. Hence the initial emphasis on hardware, presumably because it's a lot easier to send a few helicopters southward and point to several hundred million in aid transfers than it is to encourage the painstaking though probably cheaper work (anti-corruption programs, vastly improved police training, penal reform, et cetera) that Mexico needs more of.

On the plus side, it does seem as though some of the problems are being addressed. The mere existence of a report like this is positive. After five years living here, I have to say that it'd be great if Mexico had an agency comparable to the GAO.

Loads and Loads of Analysis

Anyone who loves digging into drug war data should check out this blog from Diego Valle-Jones, and this post in particular. It's a really top-notch resource. The most important conclusion I've come to so far is that the typical UN and Mexican National System of Public Security murder rates are significant underestimates, and that we should all favor the Inegi numbers when looking for an official source.

Why Is the Mexican Left Different?

Jorge Chabat on the historical roots of the Mexican left's present intransigence:
The Mexican left has very little, until now, to do with the left in developed countries, which more than anything have decided to play by the rules of the democratic system, something that is still hard to accept for the constellation of parties and politicians that in Mexico align themselves on that side of the spectrum. And the reason for this is simple: the Mexican left is the daughter of the Mexican Revolution, which may have had many virtues, but for which the construction of a democratic society wasn't a priority. That is clear when you analyze the discourse of Plutarco Elías Calles, the founder of the PRI. Calles simply denied the possibility of the existence of a party opposed to the uber-party. The reason was very simple: the PNR and its descendants represented a revolution in which the people had expressed their will. Therefore, those who were opposed to the party were party of the non-people, the rich, the reaction, the "right", which by definition had no right to exist. This exclusive logic, which is shared by the great majority of revolutions, cancels from the outset any possibility of a democratic game. In fact, in the callista conception of politics, all ideological differences should be processed inside of the party. Therefore, if anyone differed from some policy in particular they had to express it inside of the party.
I'm presently reading a book called La Fractura Mexicana that aims to explain, among other phenomena, the same thing Chabat is talking about. I'm not quite far enough in to determine how closely author Roger Bartra's explanation resembles Chabat's, but so far it has a fair amount in common.

Note from the Newspaper

El Siglo de Torreón had an interesting note on the front page of yesterday's paper:
Attacks by organized crime on the civilian population have multiplied in the Laguna and while authorities offer to combat crime, criminals are a step ahead of good intentions in launching their blows.

Forty-six civilians have died in four multiple homicides since January. A dozen more have fallen in crossfire. More than fifty innocent victims haven't been enough so that the three levels of government end their differences and begin working jointly and stop evading their responsibilities regarding the failure in combating crime.

The violence that is shaking La Laguna doesn't recognize borders. The criminals cross state and municipal lines while political actors hand out blame along party lines.

What bloody event has to occur for them to understand the gravity of what is going on in La Laguna? How many more deaths, President Calderón, Governors Moreira, Hernández Deras, Mayors Olmos, Calderón, and De la Torre?

The population of the Laguna is ready to participate, the question is whether our authorities are as well.
What makes this more striking is that El Siglo is not, in my experience, given to Excélsior-style, self-righteous calls to action.

I also think it's worth noting that while El Siglo is right in its diagnosis of the government's unwillingness to take insecurity sufficiently seriously, separate it from politics, and work as a whole, it's also not quite clear that the civilian population is ready to participate constructively. Rightly or wrongly, there is an enormous trust deficit between the governors and the governed, which makes it difficult at this point for the population to get 100 percent behind any government action, which is a significant barrier to an effective crime policy. Of course, a concerted effort from all realms of government lasting several years would probably do wonders in fostering trust among the general population, but I don't imagine it would be an overnight improvement.

Posts Worth Reading

David Agren says that the opposition is having a hard time rounding up a big-time candidate for governor in the State of Mexico, because Toluca is the sticks and many of the possibilities have their eyes on the presidency in 2012.

Noel Maurer wonders if northern Mexico is turning into Sicily under the Cosa Nostra.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Exaggeration of the Day

LA's La Opinión reports that the Zetas are in the city, ready to hack it out with the gangsters from Sinaloa, the Gulf, and four other gangs. A police lieutenant named Alvin Jackson provided the following synopsis:
"Here in the city the cartels from the Gulf and Sinaloa and the Zetas are operating."

They are operating at a mid-level and at a street level"...

"The [antidrug] agencies that work in Los Angeles are competing with seven major Mexican cartels; two that he have detected, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, work in distribution in the area of the San Fernando Valley, West Side, Central, and South Central..."
The piece also collects quotes from an unnamed La Familia loyalist, who adds, "They're taking them to Mexico for executions, they train them there, it's their army".

I've written about his a few times in the past, but it's worth repeating: although there certainly are ample amounts of Mexican drugs in Los Angeles, and surely there are a handful of representatives of some of the most powerful gangs in Mexico, the context in which this is presented is quite misleading. When you talk about seven different Mexican drug gangs fighting it out for control of a city, the images that are called to mind are of car-bombs or mass executions. Yet, there is absolutely no reason to think that LA officials should spend much of their day worrying about that eventuality. Furthermore, any global smuggling network, a label that includes the suppliers of a huge quantity of drugs consumed in the US, will necessarily have to include local distributers. They, in turn, must have a relationship with the foreign suppliers. While these foreign suppliers often have deservedly scary reputations, their linking up with American street gangs to distribute their merchandise does not mean that the Mexican drug wars are going to be fought out on the streets of LA, or any other city. Until we have evidence of something more sinister, all that the people in the article are describing is a black-market supply chain, not the mass invasion of Los Angeles by Mexican drug thugs.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Following up on the LA Times

Francisco Javier Acuña is one of the few people in Mexico to follow up on the LA Times' recent meditation on racism in Mexico:
While here we cry and condemn the offense of Arizona's campaign of xenophobia in Arizona, on some "humorous" sports TV program --during the World Cup-- the skin color of natives of South Africa was made fun of long with their poverty and their supposed ignorance according to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. We should criticize any apology for the insult to human dignity based on ridiculing with personal stereotypes: nationality, ethnic origin, language, or physical characteristics, the problem is that TV programming that eliminates trashy humor that all of us captive TV viewers suffer from is an unthinkable solution. Why? Very simply because without viciousness there are not ratings and that is doubly unfortunate.
With regard to Acuña's column being unusual in discussing this topic, it's pretty clear there isn't much appetite for this kind of debate in Mexico. Although it's probably more that it is striking to me because Americans, regardless of their individual opinions or prejudices or politics, are a people particularly interested in race as a debate topic.

Depressing

El Universal had a front-page story today on how the judicial reform in Chihuahua, one of the first states to implement oral trials and other elements of the judicial reform, is being slowed by the difficult security situation in the state:
Like one victim more in the war against drug traffic, the structure of the new criminal justice system in Chihuahua has been strongly attacked. More than 100 of its strategic operators have fallen victim to gunfire from organized crime, which has impeded, in its three years of implementation, the realization of the objective for which it was designed: ridding the state of impunity.

Gunmen from several criminal organizations since 2008 more than 98 members of the state attorney general's office, among them police investigators, agents for the attorney's office, and specialized forensics agents, aside from 21 lawyers. All of them received training so as to implement the judicial reform on the ground, which was to give Chihuahua's justice system a 180-degree turn.
Looked at another way, you can't get a handle on the violence because of weak security institutions, and you can't strengthen the security institutions because the violence is out of control. Quite the pickle.

On the plus side, Noel Maurer points out that, the label of World's Most Dangerous City notwithstanding, Juárez still appears to be slightly safer than Baghdad.

Potentially Good News for a Final Legislative Push during Calderón's Term

Manlio Fabio Beltrones is content with José Francisco Blake's replacement of Fernando Gómez Mont.

More on Torreón

There appears to be a slightly more full-throated reaction to this latest massacre than to the previous two. The federal government has said it will send more Federal Police to Torreón, after several months of a very scarce federal presence here. There hasn't been much reporting on the motives (which is also typical of the bad stuff that goes down in Torreón, relative to the reporting you see in other areas), other than the feeling that it had something to do with organized crime. Having surveyed Facebook pages from area residents, El Universal reports that the quinta where the massacre took place appeared to have been rented out earlier that day by a homosexual group, but that the virtual invitations indicate that the party was to be finished by the time the massacre occurred. Also, Spanish-speakers check out the comment beneath the article that appears to call for civilians to form death squads to fight organized crime. Chilling.

Update: I'm hearing today that the party mentioned above was cancelled well before the murders, and basically had nothing to do with the massacre. Sorry for the misleading suggestion. Also, via Richard, this attack was the subject of an article in the NY Times.

Election Roundup

A column here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Nastiness in Torreón

For the third time this year, a group armed with machine guns fired indiscriminately on a party in Torreón last night:
According to initial investigations, in the quinta there was a party going one when minutes before the attack, various vehicles arrived at the site with armed men, who got down and without a word, opened fire on them, later fleeing in an unknown direction.
Seventeen were killed, 18 were injured in the event. The first two times something like this happened, there was very little reaction in the national or international media, for whatever reason. It's hard to imagine a scarier symptom of organized crime's presence in Mexico, so it'll be interesting to see if this gets more attention.

The Surprising Importance of the Polish Media in Mexico

One refreshing thing about the Mexican media is that, in comparison to the US, it is quite interested in what the rest of the world has to say. This could translate into front-page news stories about a New York Times editorial, or a write-up of the French press's reaction to a visit by Sarkozy to Mexico.

This piece, however, seems to take that admirable trend about six miles too far: El Universal's sports section informs that a Polish website was really impressed by Carlos Salcido and Javier Hernández. Both guys were indeed excellent, but why does El Universal look to some random source in Poland of all places as the definitive word on their performance?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Today's Illustration of Mexico's Deficient Teaching Corps

It seems as though the past several weekends have included one stat or another demonstrating the utter incompetence and corruption coursing through the veins of Mexico's educational system. Today's: according to the SEP, almost a quarter of the nation's teaching corps, which is to say almost 250,000 instructors, have been deemed academically unfit. Incredibly, this group includes 200 people, among them 30 principals, who've not even completed elementary school.

As long as we're on the subject, last week's stat was that there appear to be more than 200,000 teachers whose salaries are being paid by the state, but whose actual job is a mystery. Either they are listed at working at schools that don't exist, schools that have been closed, or there is no explanation for why they are drawing a paycheck every two weeks.

Kind of Embarrassing

Anyone who reads Excélsior regularly has probably noticed the enthusiasm with which the paper has been pushing the telenovela Las Aparicio, which runs on its sister network Cadenatres and evidently has to do with a lot of devious women in the same family. It's been going on for weeks, but the intensity of the cheerleading seems to be ratcheting up. Yesterday's front page had a big picture of Mexican movie actress Marina de Tavira, the motivation being that she is considering joining the show. Today's paper had a 1,700-word fluff piece on the show. Frankly, it's more amusing than anything, and I do understand that competing against Televisa and TV Azteca may require an unorthodox PR campaign. But 1,700 words about a show that no one really cares about? While elements of the paper are fantastic, I'm not sure I've ever seen Excélsior run 1,700 words of news analysis about, say, the nation's tax code, or the revamped Federal Police. Its comparative obsession with Las Aparicio, which calls to mind a mother's crusade to get her teenage called up to the varsity side his sophomore year, even if just to sit on the bench, is a bit embarrassing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Please, No More Protests

Marcelo Ebrard, either in a sign that he cutting his ties with the extreme left and tacking to the center, or perhaps that he is now taking seriously the make-the-city-work aspect of his job, has asked the SME to stop blocking major arteries in protest of the disappearance of LyFC. Milenio reports that since the electricity utility was taken over and disappeared by the government last year, SME members have launched 859 different demonstrations in Mexico City.

The Past Week in Mexican Politics Captured in a Single Headline

The three words headlining Pancho Garfias's latest column gets to the grain more effectively than the thousands upon thousands words to appear in Mexican op-ed pages over the past couple of days: "¿José Francisco qué?"

Life in Juárez

Evidently, car bombs are now being used in Juárez. The bomb in question killed two Federal Police officers and a paramedic, and injured several others. Authorities say the attack was in retaliation for the arrest of a La Línea big shot.

Also, Juárez branch of Seguro Popular, a bare-bones insurance program for poor Mexicans who are outside of the formal labor market and thus don't qualify for the public system, finds itself in the middle of a financial crisis because it has to treat so many gunshot victims. Incredibly, the institution reports that 40 percent of their patients have been shot.

Crazy to think that not so long ago, American officials were declaring the war for Juárez over.

Another July 4 Loser

Rubén Aguilar says the media can't tip the scales in Mexican elections the way it used to:
Media outlets favorable to the government no longer have the same influence as they did in the past. In some states the governors have a good part of the local media, as well as the electoral institutes, under their control. This election proves that the "purchased" newspapers or radio and TV news shows no longer make a difference: not only because voters now have other ways of informing themselves but also because they don't let coverage from outlets serving the sitting governor impact them. In electoral terms, the "purchase" of media is money down the drain.
It's interesting thesis, but the writing style leads me to be skeptical of how true it is. Excessive scare quotes, and they are all over this piece, are too often a substitute for airtight logic.

Cinematic Dads

I have a piece about the father archetype in recent Mexican movies here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Other Random Notes on the Cabinet Change

Interesting to see Jorge Fernández Menéndez, typically a supporter of administration policy on security, ding Calderón for his odd cabinet decisions.
There should be clear responsibilities for each one of the officials in each are, but, above all, those who are just floating along, those who don't want to expose themselves, make policy, and assume the risks should be moved or changed.

And for those who do indeed do so, who are just a handful of officials, among them Gómez Mont, Lozano, Cordero, García Luna, Galván, Saynez, and a few more, you really owe it to them to put things in order and establish clear responsibilities, which it seems today that they don't have. And of course there must be changes in the government, but four years in the same dynamic of trial and error can't continue, rewarding, albeit by omission, those who remain in the comfort zone.

If [the changes] are to strengthen that stability and institutionalization that this administration desperately needs, any change is welcome. If it's about accommodating names or lowering the political profile of positions central to the administration so as to accommodate figures close to the president, we would be making a grave mistake.
Martín Moreno says it's not a coincidence that Gómez Mont's ouster came a day after a meeting between Calderón and Manlio Fabio Beltrones. In a nutshell, the latter said he wanted Gómez Mont out, and Calderón's needs Beltrones to get anything out of these last two years. He also says that Calderón, by meeting with Beltrones but excluding other PRI heavyweights, is intentionally sidelining the Paredes-Peña Nieto wing of the PRI, which is nothing new.

Also, I'd forgotten this, but Patricia Flores had a reputation of being a really hard person to work with, a reputation that drove a largely critical profile in Poder earlier this year. That impression of her was also evident in this piece from El Universal. The first article came across as a bunch of people with sour grapes trying to settle a score with her, and it's not really clear from the piece that she was such an evil person or if she was just a demanding boss in a demanding post with a demanding boss of her own. In any event, fair or not, if she did generate a great deal of ill will, perhaps that factored into the decision to move her out of Los Pinos.

The Importance of Profile

José Francisco Blake said that his initial priority as interior secretary will be to negotiate a pact regarding security policy:
We have to construct a state policy on democratic security that has the endorsement of not just the political force, but of all three branches, all levels of government, and of the society as a whole.
This seems to further Leo Zuckermann's speculation that he will function as a security coordinator more than as an advocate for Calderón's agenda. That, in turn, seems like a wise decision, and Blake's comments also seem entirely sound. However, one wonders how someone of Blake's profile will be able to coerce, haggle, cajole, demand and in general exist as a peer of all the people he will need to get on the same page. He may well be an extraordinarily talented person, but, simply by virtue of his resume, he is in over his head. What if forging the pact requires him to change the mind of Genaro García Luna, who has been a major figure in the federal government for a decade? Or if he needs to twist the arm of Enrique Peña Nieto, who quite reasonably expects to be president in a little over two years? Are they going to listen to him? Bend to his will? It seems far more likely that they'll run roughshod over the upstart.

It's also quite possible, with two of the major cabinet posts dealing with security held by low-profile guys (Blake and Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez), that Calderón's conscious strategy is to make Genaro García Luna, who as secretary of public security holds a third, the be-all and end-all of his administration's security policy.

Worrying News from Chihuahua

The nephew of governor-elect César Duarte was killed in Chihuahua yesterday. Everyone's instinctual reaction is probably that this was a message to the incoming governor, but with all the violence from all of the gangs in that state, it seems possible that this was just a random crime The nephew was evidently a prominent businessman in his own right, and the murder itself doesn't seem to have been motivating the criminals, who were trying to kidnap the victim and only shot him after he attempted to flee. In any event, a tragic event and a horrible way for Duarte to start his term. It can only go up from here.

Problems with the Dedazo

One element of the July 4 elections that is getting some attention here is the failure of the PRI's selection process in putting forward the best candidate. Leo Zuckermann recently wrote:
It seems to me that one of [the conclusions the PRI should draw from the elections] is related to the method for choosing their candidates. It's been shown that it's not enough to give governors the right to designate who will be politician to appear on the ballot beneath the PRI logo to compete to succeed them.

[Break]

What did the national PRI do to correct these errors? Nothing. Because the PRI decided to give broad power to the governors to select their successors. The PRI simply translated the old institution of the dedazo from the National Palace to the state houses. If in the past the president decided who would be the PRI candidate for governor, now, without a priísta executive, the decision was transferred to the governors. And as is usually the case with the dedazos, on some occasions good candidates were selected (as in Tamaulipas or Chihuahua) but sometimes errors are made (as was the case in Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa).

[The solution is] to establish some type of counterweight to the governors from the National Executive Committee of the party (I can't imagine counterweights in states where the governor can control the entire party apparatus). For example, a governor could present his proposed candidate to be ratified by a small group of distinguished priístas (no more than ten) including the national director of the party. The risk of this mechanism is that a governor could be angered by the possible veto of his candidate. But, in politics, it's always better to have counterweights on important decisions, even a party's internal ones.

For now, it seems to me that the PRI errs in awarding all of the power over candidacies to governors. The PRI has lacked imagination in developing institutions more in line with the new era of democratic competition. But, at the end of the day, the issue is only a matter for priístas. They are the ones who will have to decide if they continue with dedazos or establish some type of counterweight that allow them to choose better candidates.
Everything he says is basically correct, but the losses in Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa were all by narrow margins. A few more points in their favor, and all of the problems with the PRI's internal practices, real though they may be, would have been entirely hidden by a clean sweep, at which point sentiments like Zuckermann's would be totally out of place.

Update: Pancho Garfias makes the same argument, and says that at least some party heavyweights are thinking likewise.

Calderón, Four Years On

The Economist has a pretty good summary of the circumstances in which Felipe Calderón finds himself just two years from the election to succeed him:
The cost of Mexico’s paralysis is rising. The economy was badly hit by the great recession, thanks to its umbilical link to the United States. An initially strong recovery now seems to be stuttering. At the same time Mr Calderón’s crusade against Mexico’s powerful drug gangs has prompted vicious turf wars in northern cities. Most of the 23,000 killed since 2006 appear to have been gangsters slaughtered by their rivals but some innocent people have died and, days ahead of an election involving 12 state governorships on July 4th, the PRI candidate in the border state of Tamaulipas was gunned down. His death prompted not a surge of national solidarity but further partisan squabbling between the president and the PRI; and public support for the crusade is waning.

Mr Calderón, a decent man, must take part of the blame for Mexico’s malaise. He has chosen loyalty over competence in his cabinet. He has proved inept at forging the political deals required to approve his reforms. And his plans for improving security are flawed.

Although some significant drug barons have been captured or killed, and the United States has been prodded into doing a bit more to stop the southbound flow of guns and money to the traffickers, the security strategy has been poorly implemented. Deploying the army was supposed to buy time to build a 100,000-strong federal police force, but only 12,000 new police, half of them soldiers on secondment, have been recruited. Nor has the government done anything to prevent several million young men with poor education and no proper job from being potential recruits for the drug gangs.

Gómez Mont Analysis

Leo Zuckermann says cabinet changes were inevitable after the elections, and that yesterday's (which included Gerardo Ruiz coming into serve as Calderón's chief of staff, replacing Patricia Flores, who is now to serve as secretary of social development) are good news because they indicate that control of and responsibility for enacting the president's agenda will lie with Los Pinos, rather than being dispersed among cabinet members:
With the cabinet changes announced yesterday, it seems to me that the president is returning to the organization that functioned during his first year of government, which is to say, that the operation and political negotiation were carried out from Los Pinos. That's how it worked when Juan Camilo Mouriño was chief of staff. But, inexplicably, with a model that worked, Calderón moved Mouriño to the interior secretariat and in that moment the government lost force.
There may well be a lot of truth in what Zuckermann says, but much of the loss in force is that the stickier legislative tasks --namely oil reform-- came after that first year.

Regarding Gómez Mont's replacement, he writes:
The naming of José Francisco Blake, former interior secretary of Baja California, leads me to think that this department will handle more security and, in particular, coordination between the various agencies of the federal government and the state governments. Blake comes with the experience of a state which, though it continues with high levels of crime, has managed to lower the violence in its big cities thanks to the effective coordination in the three levels of government.

Buruma on Hitchens

Ian Buruma's review of Christopher Hitchens' memoir captures better than anything I ever remember reading a lot of what I find vaguely unlikeable about his work, regardless of his politics on a given issue. Highlights:
It was then, however, in the mid-1960s, that the “exotic name” of Vietnam began to dominate the evening news. He was shocked by what he heard about this war, and when the British government refused to withhold support for “the amazingly coarse and thuggish-looking president who was prosecuting it,” he, Christopher Hitchens, began “to experience a furious disillusionment with ‘conventional’ politics.” He continues: “A bit young to be so cynical and so superior, you may think. My reply is that you should fucking well have been there, and felt it for yourself.”

To which one might well reply: Been where? Cambridge? And why the sudden hectoring tone? Clearly, even then, doubt would never get a look in once a cause was adopted.
[Break]

IS had about one hundred members, but, Hitchens writes, had “an influence well beyond our size.” The reason for this, it seems, was that “we were the only ones to see 1968 coming: I mean really coming.” Again the self-referential choice of words is remarkable. Not the students in Prague, Paris, Mexico City, or Tokyo, not even the Red Guards in Beijing—no, it was the members of the International Socialists at Oxford who really read the times.

A more charming (though for some readers perhaps rather cloying) byproduct of this concentration on small bands of loyal comrades is Hitchens’s near adulation of his friends, all famous in their own right. Martin Amis, James Fenton, and Salman Rushdie merit chapters of their own.

[Break]

One of the weaknesses of the chapter on Hitchens’s journalistic exploits in Poland, Portugal, Argentina, and other places is that he never seems to be anywhere for very long or meet anyone who is not either a hero, someone very famous, or a villain. One longs to hear the voice of an ordinary Pole, Argentinian, Kurd, or Iraqi. Instead we get Adam Michnik, Jorge Luis Borges, Ahmad Chalabi, all interesting people, but rather exceptional ones. One misses all areas of gray, all sense and variety of how life is lived by most people.
For the polar opposite of this piece, click here. For all his faults, though, Hitchens remains quite an entertaining writer, and we wish him a speedy recovery from cancer.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gómez Mont Gone

After weeks of speculation, Fernando Gómez Mont has resigned, and has been replaced by a Baja California official named José Francisco Blake. The new secretary of governance seems a strikingly low-profile figure, reminiscent of Arturo Chávez Chávez before he was named attorney general. Indeed, his highest ranking posts were that of federal deputy from 2000-2003 and interior secretary in the state government of José Guadalupe Osuna Millán. And now he holds one of the most important positions in Mexico.

Good News for Gang Recruiters, Bad News for Mexicans

The population that most worries analysts with regard for the potential for gang violence in Mexico to continue to grow are the so-called Ni-Nis, young people who neither study nor work (ni estudian, ni trabajan). According to Inegi, that group now accounts for just under 2 million Mexicans, and has grown by 250,000, or almost 15 percent, in the past two years. Hopefully, the economic recovery will help put a dent into that number, thus undermining one of the factors driving insecurity. You'd think a young a determined jobs program targeted at new entries into the labor market could also help, and it would be a good idea even if it didn't end up having much impact on security. In any event, as much as we hear about Calderón's policies driving the spike in violence in Mexico, we don't hear nearly as much about the economic crisis as a factor.

Getting over the Crisis

The old saw about alcohol being the one industry that loves a recession held in Mexico last year: despite the economy dropping some 7 points, sales for tequila, beer, and all the rest grew by 9.8 percent in Mexico in 2009.

Next Year

David Agren has a good post running down the races for governor next year, specifically in the State of Mexico. Highlights:
Citing survey data from GCE - which polls for Milenio - Berrueto listed some of the states with the least-popular governors prior to the elections (with 32 signifying last place):

32. Oaxaca (PRI)
31. Aguascalientes (PAN)
28. Zacatecas (PRD)
27. Puebla (PRI)
26. Tlaxcala (PAN)

In all five states, the incumbent party lost. On the other end of the survey, the states with popular governors holding elections included:

2. Tamaulipas (PRI)
5. Veracruz (PRI)
6. Quintana Roo (PRI)
10. Durango (PRI)
11. Hidalgo (PRI)

The PRI won all five races on July, although its victories in Durango and Hidalgo have been questioned. (In Durango, teachers loyal to the PRI governor of neighbouring Coahuila - who ranked most popular in the CGE survey - poured into the state and helped deliver a narrow victory of less than two percentage points. In Hidalgo, the PAN-PRD coalition somehow managed to claim 45 percent of the vote despite running against a shadowy PRI machine that went so far as to have an opposition campaign office raided by state police on election day morning.)

In the GCE survey, Peña Nieto ranked 12, suggesting the PRI is in for a tight race next year in the State of Mexico.
This survey is good news for Humberto Moreira, the top-ranked governor. A couple of factors could conspire to make Moreira, who's typically been treated as a non-entity or a dark-horse, a presidential possibility in 2012. One is that Peña Nieto's designated successor could well lose next year, and Fidel Herrera could be too damaged by the audio tapes and the contested election in Veracruz to be a viable candidate. That would clear the path for Paredes and Beltrones, but both of them are longtime insiders who have lots of enemies, whereas Moreira is a fresher face. The catastrophe of Roberto Madrazo, the ultimate party insider, in 2006 would also would seem to tip the scales toward someone with something of an outsider's profile. Moreira also is a former public school teacher, and the son of teachers as well, which would seem to suggest that he has connections to the SNTE and, therefore, Elba Esther Gordillo, whose electoral support could be a major advantage, if not decisive. I've read that Gordillo is already in bed with Peña Nieto, but it'd be shocking if she doesn't have her bets hedged, and a former teacher who's young and popular would seem like a logical plan B.

Of course, this is all speculation from someone with zero inside info, so make your grain of salt a big one.

Agren also has an interesting post on Diego Fernández de Cevallos.

More on Lozano: The Calderonista Aesthetic

This photo of Javier Lozano accompanies some recent El Universal articles on the guy. I've seen others where he looks normal, but here he looks like a Bond villain. Is that a cat in his left hand? Is he thinking about which subordinate to liquidate? My educated guess: yes and yes.

Also, how many Calderón loyalists have wire-rimmed or rimless glasses, wear their hair combed straight back, and basically look like clones from the same geeky technocrat DNA?* There's Lozano, Nava, Germán Martínez, the president himself--I'm halfway surprised that they didn't make Josefina Vázquez adopt the same style.

*I wrote this from behind a pair of wire-rimmed glasses, so I feel entitled to make fun.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More News from San Pedro GG, Once Again for the Wrong Reasons

Three former members of Mauricio Fernández's unofficial security force in San Pedro Garza García were arrested by the PGR and placed under arraigo for 40 days, during which time their alleged links with organized crime are to be investigated. Personally, I'm shocked that Fernández's strategy of employing off-the-books shock troops to ensure security in the city led to any illegal doings. Shocked.

Continued Lobbying

Ernesto Zedillo, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and César Gaviria, the presidents of last year's Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy (as well as the former leaders three nation's with serious drug problems), have issued something that they are calling the Vienna Declaration, which appears to reiterate the points of the Commission's final report: the War on Drugs has failed to reduce supply or demand, it has caused all manner of horrible side effects in Latin America, and alternative approaches are needed.

One of my wishes is that a relatively big-name American official will one day embark upon a quixotic, one-issue presidential campaign centering on the insanity of the war on drugs. Since even liberal, formerly drug-using presidents won't take the issue of marijuana legalization seriously, such a campaign could be a way to loosen up the prevailing restrictions on serious drug policy debate in the US. But if that's not going to happen, Zedillo, Cardoso, and Gaviria turning into legalization activists is something of a consolation.

Lots of Words on Juárez

I was expecting this Boston Review piece to be a long dissection of Charles Bowden's Murder City, but it's much more about the general decline of Juárez over the past a couple of decades. There's nothing too surprising in it, but it's a thorough, entertaining overview written by a woman who knows the city. Which is to say, it's well worth the read.

At one point, she mentions that Amado Carrillo's fortune was "estimated at $25 billion". I've read that figure before, and it seems both extremely unlikely and of a piece with the estimates of Chapo's fortune at $1 billion (though I'd say that the Carrillo estimates are farther from the mark). Amado Carrillo, for all his fame, didn't actually spend that much time running Mexico's most formidable gang. For years, he shared space (and profits) at the top the organization he would later command alone, until he killed his partner and rival Rafael Aguilar in 1993. Carrillo died in 1997 (at which point Bill Gates had a fortune of $36 billion, up from $18 billion in 1996), which meant that he had only four years to really rake it in. This is an industry that in 2009 was worth an estimated $25 billion in Mexico, which, if you account for inflation and assume no growth since his death, means that it was worth about $18.4 billion in 1997. It seems exceedingly unlikely that a single man could have profit margins anywhere near 10 percent of the entire industry's revenues, but let's say he took in 15 percent, or about $2.7 billion annually. This is almost certainly exaggerated, but it would give him almost $11 billion in profits in his most profitable years, which is to say he would still be short more than $14 billion. And it's also not like he was an elder statesman who had been breaking the bank in anonymity for decades. He was 42 when he died, which means basically he'd have to average more than a billion per year his entire career to have a fortune in the $25 billion range when he died.

This isn't the most important element of the drug war, but I do think it's important that we (by which I mean law-abiding citizens and analysts on both sides of the border) not make our adversaries out to be ten feet tall.

Rumors

The rumors of Fernando Gómez Mont leaving the Secretaría de Gobernación, which have been a constant rumble this entire year, are heating up, with one version holding that Labor Secretary Javier Lozano will take his place.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Measuring Improvements

A portion of a recent paper about Mexican government strategy from Georgetown's John Bailey illustrates why it can be hard to make heads or tales of Mexico's public security ups and downs:
Beginning with the politically relevant criteria in Mexico’s case, the key issue is that gang-related violence continued to rise through the first quarter of 2010. Eerily reminiscent of the public support in the United States during the Viet Nam war, public opinion has focused on the body count despite the GOM’s emphasis on impressive results on a variety of technical indicators. The government could plausibly argue that increasing violence was an indicator that DTOs are fighting among themselves in response to heightened pressure from the armed forces and law enforcement. At some point, however, and especially as more ordinary citizens were affected, the violence must be seen to recede. As to kingpins captured, the paramount symbol, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, remained at large.

By late March 2010, public opinion appeared negative with respect to the government’s strategy. A government spokesman’s reference to Colombia’s experience to argue that much more time is needed to reverse negative trends is plausible in the abstract, but it appears unpersuasive in the current public debate. In substantive terms, the GOM strategy will be judged over the longer term by whether significant progress was made by 2012 to train and deploy a federal police of acceptable professional competence and ethical character. Also important is the perception that judicial reform is having visible effects in reducing public insecurity.
From the distance of several decades, the Vietnam comparison feels about right (though I wasn't alive during the war), though more in reverse; the body counts are usually used in Calderón's critics' arguments rather than the government's. In any event, the reliance on several different, relatively simple statistics, the conclusions stemming from which often contradict each other, to measure security declines or improvements remains a significant source of confusion about the situation in Mexico.

A Question of Momentum

Macario Schettino on the July 4 elections:
[T]he most important part of Sunday's elections is that it swung the momentum. The PRI advance turned out to be short-lived. It was, in reality, since last year, but it was hard to see. In 2009, the PRI achieved a great result in the mid-term election because of the confluence of two elements: the economic crisis and the null vote experiment. The first cost the government, which always happens, and the second had many followers among young people with high levels of education, which is a traditionally PAN constituency. That's why the PRI won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, with it's now permanent ally, the PVEM. Not because the population was being converted back to them.

How the Arizona Lawsuit Will Play Out

There could be some victories for the Arizona governor in the lower courts, but Jonathan Cohn (with help from legal scholar Walter Dellinger) explains that the law will eventually be struck down.

Alliance News

One of the states electing a governor in 2011 which I'd not heard of as a possible target for an alliance is Coahuila, where Humberto Moreira's term is in its home stretch. But today's La Opinion reports that the PRD and the PAN here are in fact discussing the terms of an agreement. In terms of his profile, Moreira isn't Peña Nieto, or even Fidel Herrera for that matter, but he is something of a rising star and his name has been bandied about as a possible presidential candidate in the future, so a victory for the PAN-PRD in Coahuila would be a significant scalp. At the same time, because of the PRD's weakness here (in the 2005 election that brought Moreira into office, the PRD candidate won 3 percent of the votes) an alliance would be more window-dressing than a significant fusion of political forces.

Also, Bajo Reserva reports that the alliance being talked about Michoacán is not of the PAN and the PRD, but of the PAN and the PRI. The logic is that removing the PRD from the governor's house in Michoacán is roughly equivalent to defeating Marín and the PRI in Puebla, but this logic is flawed for many reasons, which in sum make this proposed alliance seem more than anything like a naked power grab.

Happy Iker

So as to not end Gancho's South Africa commentary on a negative note (see previous post), here's Iker Casillas, overwhelmed by emotion during a post-game interview with reporter Sara Carbonero, who is also the keeper's girlfriend:



He's like the anti-Namath.

ESPN's Dilemma

ESPN.com's coverage of the World Cup (which I assume was comparable to its TV coverage with regard to how it analyzed and explained the sport to viewers) differed from the network's Latin American coverage in one very noticeable way: in Latin America, the network's most recognizable faces --José Ramón Fernández, David Faitelson, Daniel Brailovsky-- are by and large soccer experts. Therefore, ESPN could send both its superstars and its sharpest soccer analysts to South Africa without sacrificing one group for the other: they were one and the same. Such is not the case in the US, so while you have knowledgeable American soccer writers like Michael Bradley, you also have the better known sports generalists --which in the US means someone not steeped in soccer knowledge and lore-- like Jemele Hill representing the network. Hill's summary of the final, which basically slammed Spain for being boring, seems like that of someone who learned 95 percent of what they know about international soccer in the past month. For instance:
And if you watched Spain throughout the tournament, you're not underestimating the Spaniards by thinking it's somewhat surprising that they would be hoisting the gold trophy.

This was a team that didn't really wow throughout the tournament. This was not a glamour team, rather one that valued possession more than scoring.

[Break]

Throughout the tournament, the Spaniards forced everyone to play their clunky game. They imposed their style and their lack of goals, of beauty, is a non-issue.
The final was ugly, but everyone (aside from Hill) rightly blames the Dutch and their chest-high tackles for that. As for Spain, "clunky"? A surprise winner? Not beautiful? That's just ridiculous. This was a team of wizards across the field (and up and down the bench) that fulfilled its destiny in lifting the trophy.

Geography Lesson, Courtesy of the New York Daily News

Via Greg Weeks, this portion of an NY Daily News editorial on the alleged Hezbollah agent in Tijuana is just unbelievable:
Mexican authorities have rolled up a Hezbollah network being built in Tijuana, right across the border from Texas and closer to American homes than the terrorist hideouts in the Bekaa Valley are to Israel. [Emphasis mine.]
That certainly does little to combat the notion that New Yorkers are an extraordinarily insular bunch.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

South Africa's Most Valuable

Leander Schaerlaeckens says that it's Diego Forlán. No argument here--he was brilliant. That crack he had yesterday was one of the best goals of the tournament, and everything Uruguay did offensively went through him. He won't win the Golden Ball, but I can't imagine any team suffering more from the hypothetical removal of a single player.

Update: Silly me, indeed he did win the Golden Ball.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unsettling Estimate

An audit of the Mexico City police estimates that 10 percent of the city's 35,000 police are dependent on a drug. This report comes after a weekend in which a marijuana plant was found inside of a police station, and two officers were arrested for the murder of a colleague. One officer quoted in the story offered the following reason for the widespread use of drugs:
In our world it's easy to fall into drugs, first because of the stress you're under: there are times in which you get high to deal with the shifts because after confronting criminals in a gunfight or seeing it up close, you're in shock.
No doubt being a cop in DF is an extremely stressful job, but this is a poor excuse as well as a poor explanation. I very much doubt that all of the 3,500 drug using cops in Mexico City do so only after gunfights, and Mexico can't wait for the job to become less stressful before demanding cleaner police officers. Though assuming stress is indeed a major factor, perhaps Mexico's police departments can seek more therapeutic ways to help cops unwind. Any such effort should be coupled with other measures to tamp down on drug use among police, such as increased training and filters for new cadets, more supervision, drug tests, et cetera.

Be Afraid

Tom Cruise has inaugurated a Scientology temple in Mexico City. If you live in Mexico and don't find that combination unsettling, watch the below video.

The Perils of Local Marketing

One of the more amusing problems for advertisers in Torreón stems from the following three related circumstances: there are no beaches nearby; consequently, many of the local retailers don't want to pay to trek a camera crew and model to Mazatlán or Tampico to make an advertisement; yet, the fun, sexy atmosphere of the beach remains the advertising ideal for basically every product or service you could ever want to market. This problem leads to photos like the above, which is from an ad for a new gym. The model is laying on what appears to be sand, under a sunny sky, and is wearing a bathing suit, all of which scream Beach! Yet when you take a closer look at what lies behind the woman, it appears as though weeds and crabgrass are running wild a few steps behind the model, with a scraggly sierra filling out the background a mile or so away. South Beach, this is not.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not a Shocker

Milenio has taken a look at the cables that Tony Garza's embassy sent to Washington in the days after the election of Felipe Calderón. Nothing too surprising, though it is interesting to look at. Garza and co. seem to have been primarily worried about capital flight and ingovernability. Both of these worries turned out to be overstated, but were understandable given the context in the summer and fall of 2006.

The Alliances and the Long-term Health of the Parties

Ana Paula Ordorica wonders whether Nava and Ortega's present celebrating will be short-lived:
On the labor carried out by both: winning elections, which is without a doubt the work for the party leaders. And they, in tandem, won them.

But the problem is that a political party doesn't simply have to win elections. That's not it's only job. It also has to form platforms which expand the options so that the citizens may choose and they have to pursue an attractive agenda so as to follow a predictable line of action upon which citizens can vote.

This is their long-term goal. Nevertheless, instead of fighting to present proposals or ideas, Nava and Chucho fought for positions. The future of their parties, their platforms and their ideas, were forgotten.
This sentiment, a version which I've read a number of times over the past few months, is probably the best argument against the alliances.

On the AMLO-Ebrard Showdown

Here's Leo Zuckermann:
López Obrador wants to compete and has already started to minimize the pact of the polls. It's logical: he expected the alliances agreed to by Ebrard and Ortega to lose, whereupon he could again place himself as the undisputed leader of the PRD and the left. It didn't happen and that's why, now, he is unveiling himself as the only one that can advocate for the poor in this country. It is, I believe, the first open, clear consequence of the electoral results from last Sunday: the public confrontation between AMLO and Ebrard has begun.

Gio's Future

On the strength of his four games in South Africa, Giovani Dos Santos is one of the three finalists for the best young player award. You'd think Germany's Thomas Mueller is a shoe-in, but nonetheless Dos Santos deserves plaudits for his performance, especially in the first two contests. His World Cup run resembled Messi's (though of course at a signficantly lower level) in the sense that he set up teammates, opened up space, made some great runs, threw a bunch of shots on goal, and played, generally speaking, pretty darn well, though he never found the net himself.

Where he will play next year remains up in the air. Harry Redknapp says he can come back to Tottenham (who still has his rights), but he needs to stay out of the nightclubs. I always figured his departure had less to do with his being dragged from a London bar and more to do with performance and the general state of his development as a player, but this makes you think maybe it was more about the partying. Anyway, it'd be great to see him with a Champions League team (not to mention one that I'd be able to see a lot of, unlike Galatasaray).

Polling Problems

One of the reasons that the PRI is mildly disappointed despite scooping 75 percent of the races is that the polls indicated still greater success for the party. It wasn't just the number of victories, either, but rather the projected margin of victories, with blowouts forecast in a number of states that wound up being quite narrow. Which is to say, the polls were very wrong. Milenio's Ciro Gómez chalks the inaccuracies up to a number of factors, principally the pre-election blackout period that failed to catch up with late movements in voter sentiment (especially important in Veracruz, where the tapes of Fidel Herrera emerged just a couple of weeks before the election), as well as the likelihood that respondents offer answers to pollsters that differ with their actual voting preferences.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Longer-term Impact of the Alliances

Ricardo Pascoe Pierce thinks that the PAN-PRD coalitions could have a positive impact beyond the mere electoral calculations:
It's possible to think that if the PRD had agreed to participate in Fox's coalition government, the political transition could have taken a decisive step, instead of having come apart because of the insecurity of the minority PAN and the lack of a clear agenda for democratization. Although this is a past episode, it reflects the rigidity of anti-democratic thought that has, generally speaking, permeated the leadership of the PRD. This doesn't excuse the PAN, but you we must remember that Fox offered the PRD the possibility of participating in his cabinet, which, I believe, would have permitted the creation of a much more solid transitional political project. In fact, the presence advance of the PRI is the product of the lack of that credible and legitimate transition. Both the PAN and the PRD are responsible, equally so, for the advance of the old regime. It's from that responsibility that the present coalitions that we have seen in recent state elections emerged. As such, the coalitions have a political origin, without a doubt, but also an electoral interest. It's a process of democratization that requires a liberal and cooperative mindset, under which the extremes inside the PRD and the PAN are isolated. What is next is a process of dialogue that should last until 2012. And it should install a new type of dialogue between forces, where the areas of agreement over the ethics of democratic politics will count more than the discrepancies regarding political doctrines.

The Inevitable Occurs

The inevitable final battle between Marcelo Ebrard and AMLO for the candidacy representing the Mexican left in 2012 seems to be on the verge of beginning. Earlier this week, with Ebrard still basking in the glow of what is perceived as a big victory for him on Sunday, AMLO said in an interview that we will look for a party to nominate him toward the end of next year. He also said that he wasn't going to wait for the polls, a reference to a previous agreement for he and Ebrard to see which candidate was better position to win the general election. Ebrard responded that the pact was not broken, although it would seem that it is. Or rather, it never really existed. The fact is, AMLO has always indicated that he was going to run, and the only way there is going to be a unified leftist candidate is if Ebrard steps aside. Otherwise, it'll be Ebrard with the PRD and AMLO with the PT and/or Convergencia, which means that probably neither will break 15 percent. AMLO, who engenders more negative feeling than anyone in Mexican politics, would need something like a miracle to win the presidency in any circumstances. Ebrard would have an uphill climb as well, but, were AMLO to sit this one out, he could certainly come out on top facing off against Beltrones and Creel.

One of Calderón's Unfortunate Traits, Revisited

Felipe Calderón sparked a minor uproar when he named Mony de Swaan (who sounds like an aristocratic French patron of the arts, but is in fact a Mexican bureaucrat) as the new boss of Cofetel, the nation's telecom regulator. De Swaan has worked in handful of federal government posts in recent years, most recently as the advisor to Juan Molinar Horcasitas, the secretary of communications and transportation. Congressmen from all parties have objected to the appointment, saying that de Swaan's close relationship to Molinar should disqualify him. Calderón has a habit of choosing a loyalists for posts where a bit of distance would be more appropriate. That's a presidential prerogative, but he would have done better to sprinkle some outsiders in among the foot soldiers.

The Perils of Running a Business in Mexico

A new report says that 77 percent of Mexican businesses are victims of fraud each year. In almost half of the cases, the defrauder is an employee working in collusion with a supplier. In a quarter of the cases, the amount of the fraud exceeds 1 million pesos. This isn't the most pressing security concern in Mexico, but wow, those numbers are much higher than I would have guessed.

Exaggeration of the Day

The July 4 elections as Calderón's Hiroshima. Seriously.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Krauze on Election Day

He has a piece in today's NY Times. He (and the headline) suggests that the most significant storyline was the loss of the incumbent party in six of 12 elections, which I think he probably overstates. Other than that, my only other reaction is that it's odd that the NY Times style dictates that the Mexican parties are written "PRI", "PAN", and then "P.R.D."; why the difference for the lefties?

Response to the Alliances

The PRI has announced that it is developing a strategy to respond to the alliances that relieved the party of control of Puebla and Oaxaca, and could well do the same in the State of Mexico in 2011. Basically, it sounds like they're planning on doing more to highlight the political convenience and ideological incongruence of the PAN-PRD unions. (Evidently, the PRI only likes ideological incongruence on the inside of the party.) For his part, Enrique Peña Nieto says that he's not scared of facing a PAN-PRD alliance in the race to succeed him next year.

Behind the Torre Cantú Assassination

Much of what I've read has assumed the Zetas were behind the killing, though the group denies it and there isn't any concrete evidence. This piece by Excélsior even speculates on the specialized car they might have used in the killing.

On Racism in Mexico

Daniel Hernández has an interesting post about the use of blackface in Mexican World Cup advertising, and, more generally, the significance of racism in Mexican society:
Many Mexicans will say they are not racist and that very little racism exists in Mexico, a nation, after all, of mestizos, who are of European and indigenous blood.

As proof, they point to the fact that slavery was ended in Mexico decades before it was abolished in the United States, and that Mexico never institutionalized racism the way the U.S. did with its segregationist laws that lasted into the 1960s.
Mexicans, it turns out, just don't see caricatures of Africans or black people as inherently racist, bringing to mind the flap in 2005 over a historic comic book character named Memin Pinguin, beloved by Mexicans but reviled in the U.S. for his exaggerated African features. Wilkinson adds:
Still, in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, people operate with a different comfort level when it comes to physical attributes. It remains common for Mexicans to use nicknames like "Chino" for someone with almond-shaped eyes, "Negrito" for someone with dark skin, "Gordo" (Fatso) for a plump person.

These terms are jarring when seen through the prism of U.S. sensibilities, but here they are usually used in a context of affection and friendship.
In online reader comments to an article in the El Universal newspaper on the Times report, many readers reacted with indignation to the suggestion that the Televisa skits are racist (link in Spanish). "Disgusting double standard for an imperialist and invading country," wrote one El Universal reader. "They should be ashamed criticizing a cartoon."

But another reader commented: "Showing people in black-face as primitive persons is the same as showing Mexicans as delinquents, and of course the latter doesn't strike us as a joke. Both acts are racist, but the difference is one makes us laugh and therefore it's approved."

Author David Lida, in a post on his blog, discussed the image used on a Mexican snack cake called "Negrito" as another instance of Mexico's blithe treatment of racial caricatures:
I've never met a Mexican who copped to being a racist. Some, particularly from the upper echelons, lament that their society is class-based, but argue that since nearly everyone is mestizo -- with a mixture of Spanish and indigenous blood -- therefore how could they be racist?
Meanwhile, in an article on the Memin Pinguin controversy in the Boston Review, historian Claudio Lomnitz argues that the scandalized American responses to Mexican racial caricatures reflect a recent phenomenon of identity politics and "political correctness" that has no direct equivalent in Mexico or the rest of Latin America.
When Mexicans say there is no racism in Mexico, by American standards, there certainly is. (To take but one example, the telenovelas are far whiter than the population at large.) What there isn't any of (or is very little of) is racial hatred, which there is an unfortunate abundance of in the US. There is no equivalent of the N-word in Mexico, there is no equivalent of the Klan, there is no equivalent of dog-whistle race-bating in politics. The two countries are just vastly different in this regard. And because of the widespread understanding that references to race do not reflect an underlying race-based contempt, Mexicans are more free in making references to color.

I have wondered for years now about how appropriate US standards for racism are for Mexico. My initial reaction was that if Mexicans are at peace with their racial circumstances, the US, with its set of higher standards stemming from a racial history far more awful than that of Mexico, shouldn't really have much to say. Though the sentiment is well intentioned, it feels almost arrogant to conclude that, because black cartoons with exaggerated features were part of a Jim Crow mindset in the States, then Mexicans are racist for enjoying Memín Pinguín, and have no business doing so. The American experience isn't universal. Racially speaking, Mexican history is much less hateful than in the US (though not without its tragic episodes, such as the Caste War and the treatment of the Indians generally) and while national standards for offensiveness in the US need to in a sense atone for our history, other nations should not necessarily have to do so.

At the same time, we do have something like a set of global standards regarding offensiveness toward other groups, specifically Jewish people. The traditional stereotypes of Jews are offensive to enlightened people in Latin America, Europe, the Australia, wherever. We look down on people who don't live up to this standard regardless of their own nation's history. Perhaps this uniquely universal standard can be justified because the Holocaust was unique, but then again African slavery was also unique, and in any event what's offensive shouldn't be determined by comparing atrocities. Furthermore, nobody is worse off because centuries-old stereotypes of Jews are now held up as a sign of ignorance, and I don't think Mexico would be worse off if it inched toward the US sensibility regarding racial offensiveness.

Tijuana Terrorist?

I first read about the arrest of an alleged Hezbollah agent in Tijuana on a right-wing site yesterday (can't remember which, sorry), and have since seen it referenced only on a handful of Mexican news sites, some Middle Eastern sites, and on Boz's Twitter feed. The fact that no big news source on either side of the border has run a major story on this makes me suspect that something doesn't add up: you'd think that one of the world's major terrorist groups having a representative on the US border would set newsrooms ablaze.

In any event, Hezbollah has long been active in the South American drug trade, and there are lots of Mexicans of Middle Eastern descent (especially from Lebanon). Given that, the existence of someone with connections to Hezbollah in Mexico's underworld wouldn't be a shocker. Before anyone starts freaking out, it's worth determining whether the person in question is a drug runner with some contacts in the Middle East, or a potential terrorist.

Another Murdered Reporter

Police reporter Hugo Alfredo Olivera of La Voz de Michoacán was shot to death yesterday. He was subsequently robbed of his wallet, jewelry, and car stereo. It's not clear whether this was a robbery gone wrong or retaliation for his work, with the robbery a merely incidental addition to the crime. Olivera's death follows the murder of a pair of journalists in Guerrero last week, which also appeared to be the result of a robbery.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Paredes' Successor

One future development that is hanging in the balance in Durango is whether outgoing Governor Ismael Hernández could potentially follow Beatriz Paredes as the PRI president. Hernández's would-be successor in Durango, Jorge Herrera, unveiled Hernández on Sunday night, while it appeared that he had a certain victory sewn up. However, in the days since, Herrera's eventually taking over the statehouse has become less assured. Should Herrera's nearly two-point lead somehow shrink into the red, one would think the PRI won't be inclined to hand the party presidency to Hernández, just as the candidacy of Ulises Ruiz has presumably imploded because he lost Oaxaca.

Ten Years Later

Leo Zuckermann takes stock ten years after Fox's election:
Where are we ten years after Fox's historic victory?

I am among those who think that today we are better off than we were 30 or 40 years ago. That democracy, with all of its defects, is a political regime superior to the authoritarianism that Mexico experienced for more than 70 years. Today, fortunately, there is more liberty and transparency. Today, despite many tricks and problems, the fact is that public officials are elected in the ballot box and not tapped by the president. But I also see many threats to the democracy that has not finished its consolidation in Mexico.

I think that organized crime is the greatest challenge for the Mexican state and its political system. Nothing illustrates the threat to democracy better than the murder of Rodolfo Torre Cantú, the future governor of Tamaulipas, exactly ten years after the change in power. The image is clear: criminals exercising veto power over the vote of the citizens.

Democracy is also threatened by myriad political actors who in recent years have done much to tar it. The parties, for example, have turned into the principal promoters of the culture of cheating. They have hte power to establish the rules of the democratic game and they are the first to not follow the norms that they themselves establish. They prohibited the use of public money to buy votes and they jump to design all sorts of strategies to get around this prohibition. They restrict the purchase of ad space in electronic media and they ump to offer briefcases full of money to radio and television execs to buy interviews, reports, or infomercials for their candidates.

And what can we say about the threat from interest groups (they are now called "factional powers", I suppose because the terms is more attractive in the media) that, with the weakness of the governments without a majority in Congress, have become stronger than ever. Unions with a great capacity for electoral mobilization that in return receive protection, privileges, and benefits. Or monopolistic business groups that support the parties and candidates in exchange for detaining legislation that affects their interests.

Best Politics-Sports Comparison Ever

Courtesy of Jorge Chabat: Santiago Creel as Vicente Fox's Guillermo Franco. Brilliant.

Chabat argues that the PRI's arrogance, which is today comparable to what it was before the arrival of Vicente Fox, could be its downfall:
Without a doubt the PRI can win in 2012. But the elections are not won through a party's positive actions but through the errors of others. If the PRI wants to win it must not commit errors. Nevertheless, the seed of its error its being sown in the PRI: it's called arrogance. More than one person will say that surely the PRI will realize this. That's not right. Partial success is the most potent drink. It makes you lose perspective. And the PRI is already drunk on power. The victories have gone to their head. They already think that God is a priísta...